Letter to the editor: The difficulty of appreciating wine under lockdown

By , 21 April 2020



The following received via email from James Bisset, who is founding partner and creative director at New Agency in Cape Town. He also writes about wine at Allthewine.co.za:

I’m tired of seeing your lockdown wines.

Not because you want to show the world what you’re drinking. And not because you’re hell bent on enjoying great wine in the age of Corona. These make complete sense.

No, the irritation is subtle. A clawing, nagging feeling that we’re not being honest with each other.  

Our best wines are cellared away from home. Because there’s little temptation to get stuck into that last Chassagne Montrachet when you’re not staring at it everyday. But with the end of the world approaching, I withdrew 24 assorted bottles for lockdown. Enthusiastically – and fortuitously as we were to discover – deciding that there was no better time to dip into the good stuff.

And over the last four weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve done.

A few nights ago, a cork was pulled on one of those Zoom calls with some of my closest friends. We all love wine, and as ever it formed the basis of another great chat. The theme was – and I’m paraphrasing “I used to not really like this style, but I’ve broadened my horizons”.

Each bottle opened designed to raise eyebrows. For the record, they were as follows:

2011 Warwick White Lady Chardonnay

2016 Alheit Hemelrand  

2018 Olivia Malbec from Argentina

2015 Kanonkop Paul Sauer  

It was a memorable evening with plenty of laughs and lively discussion. But when the topic changed to the bottle of wine we’ve most enjoyed during lockdown, well we chewed through that like it was a glass of 4th Street semi sweet.

Eventually there were some exciting answers: Aged Burgundies from Newman and Domaine de Perdrix, a Restless River Ava Marie and Eben’s Treinspoor.

But even that exceptional 2015 Tinta Barocca was underwhelming. Because every bottle opened under lockdown has been underwhelming.

And for the first time that evening there was unanimous agreement. We had proudly shown off all of the wonderful things we’d been drinking, but without telling the whole story. Which was that the wines we had liberated from confinement hadn’t quite delivered on our expectations. And as we sat there, looking at each other through our computer screens, the reason was staring us in the face.

Think about the your best wine experiences. The one thing they’re likely to have in common is that they don’t have a whole lot in common. Different places. Different people. Spontaneity and surprise. A convergence of dynamic factors that put you in the right frame of mind. And a great bottle, of course.

We don’t have the luxury to get the best out of wine right now. Even if you are enjoying house arrest, even if you love your own company – and those you share home with – there are a few intangibles missing. Some of them are easy to explain. Others are impossible to identify.

For those privileged enough to be talking about how lockdown affects the enjoyment of fine wine, lockdown is a relative breeze. But it still takes a toll. We all experience various levels of guilt, anxiety, frustration and uncertainty. Throw in groundhog day, and is it any wonder that bottle doesn’t quite strike the chord you were expecting?

So keep posting those pictures. Just be sure to recognize that sharing impulse before you submit to it. Pause to consider where it’s coming from. Acknowledge how it makes you feel.

And by all means, continue to deplete your cellar. Drink the good stuff like there’s no tomorrow. Just keep a few bottles in case there is.


10 comment(s)

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    John Biesman-Simons | 29 April 2020

    You always had a way with words James (pronounced Yames.) I discovered this on our trips around Zim in 1995 and the Kingdom of KZN in 1997. What a super read and you obviously have friends with pockets full of cash to afford some of those wines, so quite surprised that they have generally underwhelmed you.

    My wine cellar is absolutely fine from a red point of view; whites and bubblies less so, as there is less need to age them. I do have a beautiful Chenin from Sadie Family Wines and I look forward to sharing it with you and a few others in the fullness of time. Cheers, JBS

    James | 23 April 2020

    Thanks for all the kind comments. It’s good to know that others relate.

    On the plus side though, i can also report that otherwise ordinary wines seem to over deliver on expectation these days. Especially as the stock available reaches dangerously low levels.

    So make of that what you will.

    John | 23 April 2020

    Awesome refreshing read – multilayered, so much to reflect on here…

    Dadour | 23 April 2020

    Lovely text sharing intimate emotions, that all of us experience during this lockdown. Thank you, James!

    MF | 22 April 2020

    An excellent point, wonderfully articulated. More from this writer please.

    Roscoe | 22 April 2020

    What a wonderful read… we are not holding back here in the desert either… 😉

    Dean Leppan | 22 April 2020

    10/10 great article and some sobering thoughts.

    Duncan | 22 April 2020

    Enjoyable and, alas, relatable.

    My self-imposed rule: we only open the better wines on weekends. It gives the wines a sense of occasion and also marks the weekend as exceptional.

    Though if lockdown is extended again, it’ll be Nuits-Saint-Georges on a Tuesday afternoon.

    Wessel Strydom | 21 April 2020

    Most enjoyable read
    Thank you

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